In 1886 Robert Louis Stevenson published the famous story Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. As you probably know, Dr. Jekyll is the self-controlled, upright, do-good doctor and Mr. Hyde is the unfettered, impulsive, and violent malcontent. The twist? They are the same person. I have never read Stevenson’s novel, but the illustration of Jekyll and Hyde is very helpful because not only does it capture the reality of our lives, it helps unpack the at times confusing, mysterious, yet liberating doctrine known as Union with Christ.
Last week Kyle wrote a great post on how the believer in Christ is dead to sin and alive in Christ. To say it another way, we might say that Christ’s death and resurrection changes a believer from Hyde to Jekyll. But if you’re like me, you still have some questions because this seems counter-intuitive to your daily experience. Why do I still act like Hyde? Why do I keep struggling with lust, or an eating disorder, or anger, or shame, or…? Again, if you’re like me, you find it maddening that some days you feel “on fire” for God but other days you want nothing to do with him and are completely discontent. I think the following two models will help you begin to reconcile this tension.
The first picture is not what the Bible teaches about your struggle (another name for sanctification), but I think it is how many view it. This picture imagines the struggle with sin as an epic battle of percentages: “Sinful you” versus “holy you”, Hyde versus Jekyll. In this model the goal is to get to 100%. The thinking is that life on earth is a long battle, which will never be won this side of heaven, but over time by God’s grace, you do your best to overcome your sin a.k.a. your Hyde. The days you are doing well it’s 60% Jekyll and 40% Hyde, but the days and weeks you struggle (maybe over a break like this), Hyde now has the upper hand at 70% to 30%. At this point I think many believers ask God to help them summon their “inner Jekyll” and get the upper hand back.
I agree that life here is a long battle against Hyde, but there are a couple problems with this picture. First, the primary motivation to fight Hyde is out of fear. If you can never be sure that Hyde is dead, you will always be wondering if he will overtake you in the next trial or struggle you face, and overtime you will give in because the anxiety and worry isn’t worth the toil. Second, because of your fear of Hyde, you will never take any sort of risk. You can’t obey James’ call to count your trials as all joy (James 1:2) because trials are a threat. You will not be able to rejoice in sufferings the way Paul did (Colossians 1:24) because suffering makes you weak and vulnerable, giving Hyde the perfect chance to overtake you. I fear we live out this false picture in many of our lives, mine included. Take for example reading the Bible. The Bible is a good and necessary thing, but why do you read it? Is it because you feel better about yourself because you know you’re leveling the percentages against Hyde? When that happens, your Bible reading has become about you rather than God and your own pride flourishes, which is exactly what Hyde wants.
The biblical picture is that the death and resurrection of Christ has killed sin, killed Hyde once and for all. You are 100% Jekyll and are forever united with Christ (Romans 6:1,7-9) if and when you put your faith in Him. Again there are numerous implications, but space provides only a few. First, since the believer is united with Christ, the primary motivation for obedience is joy. You can obey commands like “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:5) because Christ’s work frees you up to rejoice. You no longer need to keep looking over your shoulder to see if Hyde is there. Second, you have the ability to not just limp through struggles (in many cases this is the right response) but you can also take joy in them because those struggles are no longer ultimate threats. In fact God designed trials and struggles for your good and for His glory (1 Peter 1:6-7). Finally, you now have access to Christ, the greatest resource in the remaining struggle against Hyde. Make no mistake: the effects of Hyde are and will be felt until Christ returns to earth, and the Bible calls us to fight against these vigorously (Galatians 5:16-21; Leviticus 9:7-19). James explains that real change must take place (James 1:22-27), and in Christ, using the means of your efforts, he makes such life change possible. He gives you the ability to not cheat on a test when everyone else is, or the ability to abstain from sexual immorality, or the ability to love someone who is considered unlovable.
Because we are united with Christ, little by little, day-by-day, God is working out what is already true of the believer. Philippians 1:6 says, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to the day of completion.” God is revealing your truest Jekyll and disposing of your remaining Hyde.